Reading: Outbound by Greg Williamson

Greg Williamson (b. 1964) is known for his ‘double exposure’, a technique where poems can be read in multiple ways. I approach his verse without any theoretical pre-study though, the same way I would approach life. The following poem is beautifully crafted, it holds the lyricism of yore in a floating frame of free existentialist verse:

Outbound
We live life forwards and think about it backwards – Howard Nemerov
We passengers ride backward on the train
And train our eyes on what has passed us by.
__________A cobalt blur composes
___Into a woman picking roses,
Who is already fading in the pane
As in the failing hindsight of the eye.

A line of oaks comes into focus, fades,
Supplanted by the double-dagger poles
________Of power companies,
Footnotes that redefine the trees.
An asterisk in glass, then window shades,
Graffiti, billboards, tattered banderoles

Of southbound birds. . . . Whatever comes to view
Corrects the view, but never will explain
________The random next event
___Or anything but where we went
Where long ago a woman wearing blue
Began forgetting someone on a train.

A mundane observation very quickly becomes wonderfully poetic. The first stanza offers a complete rhyme, Victorian lyricism, and desires to be part of a sonnet (except for the extra white spaces).

So, a woman in cobalt blue ‘forgot someone on a train’, her lover? I assume she was on the platform picking up the roses she had dropped during the emotional goodbye. The train passes through a landscape, read the landscape, correct it, add an asterisk* here and there. From the oaks, via the poles and the window shades to graffiti, billboards and banderoles the landscape becomes more and more literally text. The view is corrections upon corrections, interpretations of interpretations, the structuralist (de Saussure) idea.

The future remains undetermined, open. The closure of this verse puzzles me a little. Can all the views and interpretations explain ‘where we went’, is that an exception to the rule, perhaps because we are traveling backwards and have now arrived at the cause of the woman forgetting? Did we perhaps even know the woman in blue?

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